China Tower’s retail shares only just sell out as biggest IPO of 2018 fails to woo the public

The mobile phone-tower operator’s mega IPO comes at a ‘delicate time’ as both stocks and the Chinese currency tumble amid US-China trade war, say analysts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 11:50pm

China Tower has only just managed to sell all the shares available to the public in its Hong Kong IPO, the biggest worldwide for almost four years, according to people familiar with the deal.

The mobile phone-tower operator, which is seeking to raise up to HK$68.1 billion(US$8.7 billion) through its stock market flotation, allocated 5 per cent of the offering to the Hong Kong public.

The tranche, worth HK$3.4 billion – not a huge retail book for individual investors – was only just oversubscribed, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Analysts said the lukewarm response showed the public was losing its appetite for IPOs amid stock market volatility, a slump in the yuan and concerns over the escalating trade US-China trade war.

It stands in stark contrast to several IPOs earlier in the year that sold out many times over.

Ping An Good Doctor, which debuted in April, was overbought by more than 650 times, attracting HK$370 billion worth of bids from retail buyers, making it the city’s most sought-after large-scale IPO since 2009.

And China Literature, a unit of Tencent, locked in a staggering HK$521 billion of capital in its IPO last November, around one third of Hong Kong’s money supply.

And the IPO of smartphone maker Xiaomi, launched in late June, saw individual investors place HK$23 billion worth of orders for its shares, 9.5 times the value of shares available to them.

Still, Xiaomi, the most anticipated offering by a technology firm this year, priced its IPO at the bottom of the range, valuing the firm at half of what it had initially sought, illustrating that the tide was starting to turn against IPOs.

“To be fair, China Tower is a big IPO for the market to absorb and we have previously expected the retail response would not be overwhelming. But the reality proves the public’s enthusiasm has decreased, even for widely anticipated IPOs,” said Louis Wong Wai-kit, director of Phillip Capital Management and Phillip Securities.

In July, Hong Kong’s average IPO retail subscription was 29 times, the lowest since January 2016, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

This is a quick turnaround in sentiment. It’s mostly because of the recent volatility in the stock market
Louis Wong Wai-kit, director, Phillip Securities

It marks a sharp turnaround from earlier in the year. Retail investors overbought IPOs by an average of 1,191 times in April. The ratio fell to 301 in May and slipped further, to 154, in June.

Earlier this month Qilu Expressway and Qeeka Home, both relatively small offerings, recorded the lowest retail subscription ratios of the year, oversubscribed by just 14 per cent each.

Just three months ago, Most Kwai Chung – another small offering – became the most subscribed IPO in Hong Kong’s history, as its retail portion was 6,288 times overbought.

“This is a quick turnaround in sentiment,” said Wong. “It’s mostly because of the recent volatility in the stock market.”

China Tower’s IPO comes at a “delicate time”, he added.

Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng Index has tumbled nearly 10 per cent since its recent peak in early June, as the trade dispute between the US and China has escalated, casting a shadow over the economic outlook.

Ping An Good Doctor prices US$1.12 billion IPO at top end amid retail frenzy

Meanwhile, the Chinese currency has fallen sharply against the US dollar, weakening by more than 6 per cent since mid-June in onshore trade.

“The stock market has fallen considerably. I think investors would rather buy selected existing stocks than risk their money in IPOs, ” said Edmond Hui, chief executive officer of Bright Smart Securities.

“China Tower is a Chinese company that relies on domestic revenues. Some investors may be concerned that the weakening yuan might affect the company’s future valuation and stock price movement after it goes public,” said Alvin Cheung, associate director of Prudential Brokerage.

Retail investors tend to pour money into IPOs that look promising in the hope of making a quick profit when their shares trade for the first time on the exchange.

But more than half of the companies that raised money in Hong Kong this year traded below their offering prices in their first month of trading, according to Bloomberg data.

Additional reporting by Yujing Liu